Dear Ambitious 1L:
When you're thinking of joining your law review, keep this in mind: 350 hours. That's a conservative estimate of the amount of time I spent doing work for my review, and I don't intend to work that much next year. Over anything else I say, I want you to think about that number. Law review is going to demand at least that amount of time from you.
While I'm not going to tell you who I am, it's fair to tell you this much: I've spent this year as a 2L working on one of the top ten (at least if you count the rankings of such things) law reviews in the country. As such, much of what I say will be more useful to those who are thinking of joining a similar enterprise: the "name" journal of a top-ten law school. For others, the benefits may be greater or the costs less extreme. As with any anonymous information, consider what you know of the source. Nonetheless, I hope this--and the rest of De Novo's symposium--gives you a bit more to go one as you fill out your applications, fingers shaking with hopeful trepidation.
1) Know Why You Want It
I know it seems early to think about this when you're a 1L. It's the end of your second semester, exams are looming, your university has helpfully scheduled financial aid deadlines to coincide with your study period, you're trying to prepare for your 1L summer job, and here's some know-it-all telling you to make long term plans. Again: making them now can save you 350 hours.
After I'd been accepted to law review last year, a few of my friends who hadn't made the dubious cut told me exactly how doomed they were. The doors of the academy were closed to them. The best judges would never let them clerk. At best, they might make a close-to-top law firm and spend their lives toiling in gilded cages. It was all over.
This turned out to be ludicrous, although I don't fault them for feeling that way at the time. The structure of law school, especially the almost pre-ordained path from first semester all the way through to summer interviews, beats into us an idea of the One True Path: 1L grades lead to law review, which flows to a top job, propelling the student to a good clerkship and (maybe) sitting behind a Supreme when Roe v. Sturgeon gets decided, all with the inevitable force of a waterfall. An entire school of creative individuals run in the same direction, and it's sometimes difficult to remember that there's other channels to what we want.
What happened to the friend who craved the clerkship but didn't make law review? She took all the right classes, attended just about every visiting lecture from every major judge, and spent her 350 hours earning a reputation among her professors and administrators. In short, she spent time networking and researching, and if she doesn't have that clerkship in the bag, I'll be shocked. The one who wanted to become a professor? Same thing, except a greater concentration on publishing a student note. I'll be surprised if his second work isn't published next year.
Three hundred fifty hours is an awful lot of time. If you know what you want, you can do a lot with it.
There's a lot of good things that you'll get out of law review -- and a lot of frustrations -- and I'll go into some of those in the next couple of days. The process can be a good and rewarding experience if you know what you can realistically expect to get out of it, if it matches what you want, and if you're willing to put up with the exhaustion and the sheer lack of time. Additionally, if you have no idea what you want to do after your 3L year is over, law review is a great way of keeping your options open: it's a kind of fungible brownie point towards clerkships, jobs, or a future in academia. If you have a specific goal, however, and the joys and frustrations of the process itself don't appeal to you, you should spend some time considering your other options. Find that 3L who got the clerkship and didn't spend his time slaving over drafts. Seek out the newly-published author who went around the standard "note" process. Ask them how they did it: sometimes it's worth swimming against the stream a little bit.
Tomorrow: Know What You're In For (Law Review Production Processes)